India Marxists get life sentences for murder of farmers

image captionMany landless labourers in West Bengal support the opposition Trinamul Congress party

A court in India has given life sentences to 44 Marxist supporters for killing 11 landless farmers supporting a rival party 10 years ago.

The farmers were supporters of the state of West Bengal's opposition Trinamul Congress party.

The 44 supporters of the Communist Party of India - Marxist (CPI-M) were convicted of murder and rioting.

The convicted include CPI-M senior leaders Mohan Sheikh and Gopal Majhi and two senior rural body members.

A case was filed against 74 persons in the Suri district court in 2002.

After several hearings over the years, during which seven of the accused died, the court announced that 44 out of the 67 accused were guilty of murder and rioting.

"All the 67 accused were brought before the court Thursday morning. The court acquitted 23, and convicted 44 persons under the Indian Penal Code," Trinamul Congress district President Anubrata Mondal said.

"This is a victory of truth. The CPI-M cadres brutally killed 11 of our innocent supporters. We have waited for this day when they will be punished."

An eyewitness of the killings, Sheikh Raffique, said that he was satisfied with the convictions. His brother was one of those killed.

However, CPI-M leaders said they will appeal against the verdict.

"We shall go to higher court now the punishments have been pronounced," CPI-M district Committee Secretary Dilip Ganguly said.

The BBC's Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta says that the convictions and sentences are a morale boost for the opposition which is trying to unseat the Marxists from 33 years of power in West Bengal.

"This judgement shows how ruthless the Marxists have been," Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee said.

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